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I've been saying it since 2010 and I just want to talk about what it means. WIFAWCBT is We're Illinois Football And We Can't Be Trusted. I believe the origin was the Minnesota game in 2010 (which was nearly identical to this game, by the way - felt like a victory the entire way until Minnesota goes on a long drive in the final two minutes to score a touchdown with a few seconds left to win the game). It might have been the From The Stands after that Minnesota game. Or maybe the postgame article. There were no two ways about it: we're Illinois football, and we can't be trusted.
I've quoted it for 12 years now. Used it as a hashtag. Considered making it a shirt (although I don't think I could even bring myself to wear it). And people send it to me on Twitter a fair bit. There's one common thread that weaves through all Illini teams the past 30 years: we can't be trusted.
Illini fans have identified with it. I can go search Twitter and I'm sure I can find people using it last night (and not by quoting it to me). Give me a second.
Here you go:
We are Illinois football and we can't be trusted.— Barry Wilhelm (@TheEpitaph14) September 3, 2022
And, of course, when I use it (like I did very late last night), some people react very harshly to it:
I frigging hate this attitude. If we can’t watch this game and see that despite our own mistakes and the massive ref mistakes we were up 4 with under 2 min left which is a vast improvement to the very article you just wrote about our usual first away games then what are we doing?— Nate (@NateJ3_2) September 3, 2022
Maybe the best way to explain my feelings after this loss is to explain WIFAWCBT. I don't want to talk about the details of this game. I don't want to re-hash the final drive. And I definitely don't want to think about the Hightower touchdown that was overturned. So let me just explain why WIFAWCBT isn't some fatalistic attitude. It's therapy.
For starters, it is not, in any way, "Bret Bielema: just like all the other coaches." Not in the slightest. We were competitive - we were the better team, actually - but we just didn't get there. We The People got excited about the possibility of a potential win, the game started and we saw what we had been hoping to see, making us even more excited, and then that game ended like all of the other games where we didn't have hope going in: a loss.
It's not some Nebraska-like "how do we keep losing every game by one score?" that their fanbase is currently fighting their way through. It's not the six Kansas football fans and their "I don't think I've seen light at the end of the tunnel for a dozen years." Vandy's "we just want to get to six wins, man" isn't even the same as our "we just want to get to six wins, man." Our fan experience is very unique.
The reason it's so unique? Hope. When we do succeed, we succeed on a grand scale (BCS/NY6 bowl scoreboard: Illinois 2, Missouri 0). We have the kind of epic seasons that remind us it's possible. And then we play the kind of games that remind us it might never happen again.
That struggle between what we can be and what we refuse to be is why I tell everyone that we can't be trusted. Our fandom is precipitous. You might think the moment is coming, but be very careful, because there are trap doors ahead. If you don't have the heart for it, it's gonna break you.
Me? I feel like I have the heart for it. I can take the blows. It's why I follow Illini football around the country like some follow Phish. I believe this program will return to where it belongs and I'm going to be there when it happens. I will see us get back to where we belong.
Where do we belong? All-time Big Ten wins:
- Ohio State 543
- Michigan 529
- Wisconsin 393
- Minnesota 364
- Illinois 353
Iowa joined the Big Ten four years after we did and they still have fewer wins. Purdue joined the Big Ten the same year we did and they have fewer wins. Northwestern too, although you knew that one.
We belong in the middle of the pack. Wisconsin (same age as us) has 1,256 college football wins and we have 1,242. History says we belong in the middle. We must return to the middle.
But we can't be trusted. We dominate Indiana (that's 2-10 last year Indiana) for most of the game but lose because of penalties, turnovers, a turnover-on-downs, and Indiana scoring their only points of the second half 29 minutes and 37 seconds into the second half. We want to believe in the team, we go to the tailgate and talk about how we have the pieces, and then we do the thing that makes us wonder how we could ever trust another team again.
The 30-year pattern is the thing, not the fourth down call. Let me embed another tweet here. Something I tweeted back in early August:
The size of the ship that Bret Bielema is attempting to turn around. https://t.co/WDdSfhe0tL— Robert Rosenthal (@ALionEye) August 5, 2022
Bret Bielema gets all the time he needs in attempting to overcome that. It's the same thing I said when Brad Underwood was 12-21 his second season. There's no switch you can just flip after The Lost Decade. It has to be a full cultural overhaul. The coach who turns this around (please be Bret, and then please stay for 15 years, Bret) will do so by changing the culture.
But does that overhaul really have to reinforce our trust issues? Does it really have to look exactly like the last 30 years of frustrating losses? Wouldn't "played a competitive game, simply lost by 7" work much better? I felt like Indiana Jones in Indiana last night. Why did it have to be penalties?
THAT'S what WIFAWCBT means. It's therapy. It's how to cope. It is the thing our football therapist has told us to save on the lock screen of our phone so that we will see it all day long and remember who we are and what we've been through. Across the years, there is one constant truth, and we need to learn to live in a world where this truth exists until the day we realize it is no longer there:
We're Illinois Football And We Can't Be Trusted.